Transplant recipient, donor grateful for the kindness of OSU colleagues

Four months after receiving a kidney donated by one of her former Oregon State University colleagues, Cynthia Hubbard  is feeling great.

“I recovered very quickly, I feel wonderful, and I think I’m going to be perfectly capable of living a normal life,” Hubbard said. “I’m very blessed.”

As recently as January, it was another story. Her kidneys, weakened by chronic kidney disease that runs in her family, were failing rapidly. Her doctors had given her two choices: undergo a kidney transplant, or prepare to start the taxing process of dialysis. Hubbard reluctantly decided it was time to give notice to the OSU Research Office, where she had worked as a fiscal manager since 2003.

The journey from there to here involved several generous colleagues, some medical luck – and an institution that was willing to bend its own rules to help out.

As Hubbard prepared to leave the university, she decided to send thank-you cards to colleagues who’d supported her, with a brief note about her condition – and the address of the Transplant Services program at Portland’s Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital, where Hubbard had registered as a potential  transplant recipient. While such transplants are often done with organs harvested from cadavers, Hubbard’s doctors had told her that the odds of success are better with a kidney from a living donor.

Sharing a “shining” moment, Marge Stevens  (left) and Cynthia Hubbard each wore crowns in the hospital to help them feel connected.

Sharing a “shining” moment, Cynthia Hubbard (left) and Marge Stevens each wore crowns in the hospital to help them feel connected.

One of those thank-you cards found its way to Marge Stevens, an accountant with OSU’s Sea Grant Extension office. Stevens had known Hubbard professionally for several years, first when Hubbard worked for the Extension Service and later through the Research Office, which counts Sea Grant among the programs and institutes it oversees.

“My first thought was that maybe I could help get the word out to people who might have known her,” Stevens recalled. “But somewhere in the back of my mind was this little tickle telling me ‘Maybe you’re the one.’”

When Stevens ran into Hubbard and, idly, asked about her blood type – it was the same as hers – that “little tickle” became resolve. She talked to her husband, her supervisor and her physician, and then she called Legacy Transplant Services.

Thus began a detailed series of interviews to determine whether Stevens was healthy enough, whether she had sufficient support at home, and whether her kidneys were a close enough biological match that she could donate one of them to Hubbard.

“The process was very scientific, and there were a lot of steps. At each step of the way I could have been eliminated,” Stevens said. “They also told me I could stop and pull out at any time. There was absolutely no pressure on me, but the further I got into it, the more I knew that this was something I wanted to do.”

Hubbard, meanwhile, was surprised and overwhelmed. “Marge and I had met in the course of our work, but we didn’t know each other well,” she said. “I never expected something like this. I’ve got to say, she is my angel.”

When word of Stevens’ plan got out at OSU, staff in the Research, Sea Grant and Extension offices rallied to support both women. One potential issue for Stevens was recuperation time. It can take a month to six weeks for a kidney donor to be well enough to resume normal activities, and the surgery requires a year of follow-up appointments and tests. Concerned that Stevens might run through her sick leave and vacation time, some of her coworkers offered to donate their own unused leave time, if needed, to make sure the transplant didn’t pose a financial burden to Stevens and her family.

While state administrative rules and union contracts permit such donations, they require the applicant to have depleted their own leave hours before they can solicit donations, and are generally restricted to cases involving “serious health conditions” of the employee or their immediate family members. It was not clear that the organ donation would qualify. With support from Research Director John Cassady and Sea Grant Director Robert Malouf, OSU’s Human Resources office and the Oregon Public Employees Union were able to work out a one-time exception allowing classified staff to donate some of their leave time to Stevens.

“This was a really bright light that shone through all of this,” said Stevens. “I had huge, tremendous support from my coworkers, and the fact that management and the union came together on this was part of that. I really appreciate the 147 hours that my classified co-workers at OSU donated to my leave balance.”

Once the pieces were in place, things moved quickly. By spring, Hubbard’s doctors had determined that her kidneys were failing to the point where dialysis would be necessary — and they told her that an eventual transplant might be more successful if it was performed prior to dialysis. In April, just before dialysis would have started, Stevens was approved as a kidney donor.

“My attitude was, `Let’s go,’” she said.

The transplant surgery took place on April 28, 2008. Both women came through with flying colors. And their friends at OSU came through too, sending flowers, collecting baskets of treats and coupons offering help with everything from yard work and cooking to running errands and driving the women to medical appointments.

“So many people helped us in very special ways,” Hubbard said. “I’m especially thankful to those who   contacted Legacy Transplant Services about the donation program and offered to be tested to see if their kidney would be a good match for me. I will always be overwhelmed and humbled by the care, concern, and generosity shown by so many. OSU is an extraordinary place and I am fortunate to know and to have worked with such wonderful people.”

Stevens returned to work six weeks after the operation. And Hubbard, who had thought her working days were over, is reconsidering.

“I recovered very quickly, I feel terrific and I think I’m perfectly capable of living a normal life now,” she said. “I’m polishing up my resume.”

~ by Pat Kight

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